There is no place for groin-grabbing in intercollegiate athletics, or intramurals. Playful groping during high-level competition is not what they teach in Leadership 101 classes at Clemson or the Harvard Business School.
But notice that with all the attention on creative Tiger tacklers Ben Boulware and Christian Wilkins the last few days, no one is talking about the College Football Playoff national championship game pressure that’s on young offensive linemen about to get a full load of Alabama on Monday night in Tampa.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson-led leadership has been off the charts this season, a blend of conventional and unusual that transcends coaching. It’s a big reason why the Tigers have roared down the stretch.
This leadership group has trumped any Clemson has had since the 1981 national championship team, a mouthful considering all the great individual leaders who have worn orange over the last 35 years.
“Not that last year’s was bad,” head coach Dabo Swinney said, “but the leadership this year has just been unbelievable. I mean, literally from day one, from the first meeting I had with them when I got off the road (recruiting) in January and we had our first team meeting and a new group of seniors.”
Swinney just after Clemson’s astonishing 31-0 victory over Ohio State in a playoff semifinal game at the Fiesta Bowl last week talked about “incredibly committed young people.”
It’s not just seniors and veteran juniors.
A partial list:
- Watson. The consummate studious quarterback, mature beyond his 21 years. Fully in charge of a self-improvement program that includes extra film study, the brain-picking of former star quarterbacks and travels to camps. Plus production.
- Jordan Leggett. Perhaps No. 82 on the list of leader candidates a few seasons ago while letting on that he didn’t really like practice. Swinney says Leggett was a “some-timer … Sometimes he was committed.” Now he’s an accomplished senior tight end on the way to the NFL. Guys can relate to that.
Annoying, outstanding Boulware
- Boulware. He’s annoying. He’s outstanding. The senior linebacker is that kid you didn’t want to play pick-up basketball against but loved having on your team. Boulware should not have put a choke-hold on Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson or grabbed South Carolina guard Zack Bailey’s backside. But the senior linebacker was hilarious – and prophetic – last week while doing an impromptu Fiesta Bowl Media Bowl interview with teammate Christian Wilkins.
Wilkins: “Tell me about (Ohio State quarterback) J.T. Barrett.”
Boulware: “Great player. Great athlete. Can do a lot of things with the football. I’m hoping you and Dexter (Lawrence) and Clelin (Ferrell) and Carlos (Watkins) meet him a lot on Saturday. Hopefully, you all become friends.”
Wilkins: “Oh, yeah, definitely. I would love to become good friends with J.T. Barrett."
- Wilkins. A 6-4, 310-pound sophomore who dresses up as a Power Ranger off the field, plays like an All-American and loves to talk about everything (except groping Barrett).
- Artavis Scott. Junior wide receiver. As unselfish as they come. No complaints about sharing the ball with Clemson’s talented group of pass-catchers. Enthusiastic special teams player.
- Wayne Gallman. Junior running back. Tends to play his best in big games.
- Mike Williams. The junior wide receiver fought back to star status after a career-threatening neck injury in 2015. Leadership by example doesn’t get much better.
- Jay Guillermo. Senior center, offensive line spokesperson. Only Watson has been on the field for more Clemson snaps this season. Tougher than all these postseason trips on a Clemson fan’s wallet.
- Tyrone Crowder. Junior right guard. Quiet, steady All-ACC blocker.
- Carlos Watkins. Always mentioned by Swinney in leadership discussions, the All-American has 23 games with at least one tackle for loss – including two against Ohio State last week. That’s consistency.
- Jadar Johnson. Senior safety and first-year starter with a knack for clutch interceptions.
- Cordrea Tankersley. Senior cornerback and third-team All-American who leads active Clemson players with 54 games played (29 starts).
That’s a lot to replace next year.
That’s a lot to lean on against Alabama, another team with great leadership.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff